News, Connections and Photos from the life of the faith community at CAPC Oakland
We return to Mark’s gospel story in a heated argument, a public debate between groups of Jewish religious leaders (Phraisees and scribes) and Jesus. This ganging up on Jesus follows a series of miraculous healings along the Jewish West Bank of the Sea of Galilee (Mark 6:53-46). Could it be that these leaders are jealous, insecure, afraid….of the authority, power and popularity of Jesus? Don’t forget they’ve already sworn to destroy Jesus….in Mark 3:6.
The whole text can be divided in half with the first section versus 1 to 15 being parallel to verses 17 to 23. Both section begin with a question, followed by two answers supplied by Jesus. They often include a citation of the First Testament followed by statements that the tradition of the Pharisees is contrary to the word and will of God.
To unlock the message of this story first we need to grasp a few cultural and historical things:
For the ancient Jews the word “holy” meant to be seperated from the profane realm, to not be associated with anything, anywhere or anyone who was against God and God’s will. They called un-holy things, “unclean.” That’s the word used in our text in v. 3 and 5. It’s often also translated as common, defiled, impure, plluted or profane. The worldview underneath this language and action is that God is wholly and holy different than our world. Our world – especially pagan, or non-Jewish – non-God-Seeking people are like a contagion that pulls us away from God.
The people of Jesus’ day lived underneath the imperial yoke of the roman Empire. Greek culture was like American culture in our world today – the “common element”. The Jewish leaders were panicked, and struggled to articulate what it meant to be and to maintain Jewishness, that’s to say faith in the God of the Bible in this radical cultural shift during the first great globalization of our planet. Do you keep all the old traditions? Do you reject the old to take on the new? Do you selectively interpret here and there….to accomodate, to translate, or to articulate faith? We’ve learned through the Dead Sea Scrolls that the Essenes (those who wrote them) had fled from Jerusalem and the built up towns believing that the religious establishment had sold out, made a deal with the devil, turned their back completely on God’s desires. [LINK to reading about the Essenes].
The Pharisees and scribes don’t attack or criticize Jesus directly. Instead they ask why his disciples do such revolting and unacceptable things. Of course a good student would do what their teacher, or master, did or taught by example. So we can conclude that Jesus wasn’t a big practitioner of this ritual cleaning and cleansing to distinguish between what was common and holy, impure and clean. He seems beyond this practice or belief.
This practice is tricky – for it was practiced by both the Religious Establishment of the day (Pharisees, scribes and Saduccees) and also the revolutionaries (the Essenes). Here’s a reading of a Dead Sea Scroll that talks about such washing for purity and holiness as a sort of baptismal liturgy. [LINK to 4 Q414 – Dead Sea Scroll entitled “Baptismal Liturgy”]
What’s important for him is holding on to God – which means enjoying all that God has created, without calling it polluted, unclean, or sinful.
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
– Mark 1:21-28
Jesus develops his criticism of their spiritual hypocrisy through a concrete example: the fourth commandment. These religious leaders seem to teach – and quite possibly lead by example, saying one thing and doing another.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
This was commonly interpreted as material support (ie food, drink, clothes, shelter) of parents. This happened in days before Social Security when without child support, parents would be left to die. Corban means sacrifice or offering. It was a pledge to God, like when we negotiate in prayer saying….God if you will…….then I promise to do or give you….. Jesus is saying that some believers forsake their duty to the fourth commandment and blame it on God. They’ve already pledged to give all of their material blessings to God [Corban], hence they can’t actively share them now with their needy parents.
Jesus is criticizing the religious establishment as hypocritical. They honor God with their lips and words” but their “hearts are far from God”; rather than loving their neighbor as themselves (the summary of the Law) they are obssessed with what food passes their lips. Jesus is calling out their dishonest, disigenious ways which they deem “righteous” but are actually anti-godly. On top of that they seem to justify themselves and their dishonesty by placing the blame on God. “I’m only doing what God commanded, so it’s not my fault…”
The word hypocrisy comes from the ancient Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), meaning “jealous”, “play-acting”, “acting out”, “coward” or “dissembling”. The word was first associate with any sort of public performance and used as a technical term for a stage actor. Somewhere along the line in political sphere the word came to be associated with bad, dishonest politicians who seemingly wear a mask – like actors in ancient theatre. They say one thing, but do another. This negative experience with the polluting power of politics leads us to our current understanding of the word hypocrite (which isn’t all that different then the thought of Jesus’ day).
(1) A person who engages in the same behaviors he condemns others for.
(2) A person who professes certain ideals, but fails to live up to them.
(3) A person who holds other people to higher standards than he holds himself.
How then do we understand and apply this teaching on holy wholeness to our lives today and the church of today? Faced with the hypocrisy of fallen leaders, the user-friendly invocation of faith by partisan politicians, the justification of human actions how then do we live for Jesus? Think of the ways in which life-damazing exclusion is justified by racism and sexism, or of how we only practice selected generosity, because of immigration control, our market economy, or institutional racism in our government, schools…and even the church. Walking in holiness is hard. It’s not for sissies. But maybe our walk and talk are part of why public worship of God has become such a minority commitment in our culture today?
And what about our own hypocrisy – spiritual and otherwise? Aren’t we all hypocrites at one point or another? If we can’t avoid it because of our human nature (what the Bible calls our sinful nature), then what do we do…give in and embrace it? deny it? live with it?
For the ancient Jews to walk was a metaphor for life and faith. One who walked with God, was someone who lived according to God’s word, will and wisdom. What’s powerful as I reflect on that image is that it’s not a 100 yard dash, sprint to the finish line or instance reality show work-out…it’s walking, day in and day out, at times easily, at times with great burden. I can relate to that. I can also relate to the temptation to take a short-cut in order to reduce the road to walk when carrying a heavy burden. Often such short-cuts end up actually being long-cuts. That’s what the psalmist poet is trying to get at, and what Jesus is spelling out for the religious establishment then, and us today.
1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
nor standeth in the way of sinners,
nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord;
and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
his leaf also shall not wither;
and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so:
but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous:
but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
– Psalm 1
(King James Version)
Questions for Going Deeper: